"Moneyball": Thinking outside the batter's box

Beane's backstory is that at age 18 he was a promising draft pick for the New York Mets and signed up, forgoing a full scholarship at Stanford. After several miserable seasons of major league and Triple-A ball, Beane left the field, but not the game - becoming the only major league general manager who had actually PLAYED in the majors. Yet the pressures of winning were compounded by a desire to make up for the failures of his early performance. Beane took his team's performance so seriously he could not allow himself to even WATCH the games, or listen on the radio, preferring to have Peter text him the play-by-play. Columbia PIctures

A new movie about baseball is about to take the field, and our critic David Edelstein has already chosen its MVP:

In "Moneyball," Brad Pitt is shockingly good - and yeah, maybe I am the only person shocked.

He did have a couple of Oscar nominations. But ever since he starred in Robert Redford's "A River Runs Through It," he's always struck me as Redford's Mini-Me, with the same pouchy cheeks and quizzical, half-open mouth.

To prove he wasn't just a pretty boy, he overacted like mad in "Twelve Monkeys"; and in "Troy" he pumped himself up and showed off arms like tree trunks and tried to look god-like.

He got great reviews in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," but there I thought he under-acted, staring ahead with moist eyes, letting his make-up do the heavy lifting.

But actors do grow. Pitt was strikingly effective as a hard-ass patriarch in Terence Malick's spiritual epic, "The Tree of Life."

And in "Moneyball," he has soul.

He plays a real guy, Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics and a broken man when the A's almost make the World Series, but can't compete against teams like the Yankees with four times the players' salary budget.

That's when he meets Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill, with his economics degree from Yale - and his conviction that teams value (and pay big money for) the wrong things, that the most important stat is the on-base percentage, meaning players who might not hit 'em out but get on.

If this sounds like inside baseball, it literally is. But "Moneyball," based on a marvelous book by Michael Lewis, transcends inside baseball.

On one level, it's a rousing sports-underdog story; on another, a movie about thinking outside the batter's box. It's "The Bad News Bears" for MBAs.

The movie is too long, but it's full of fast, cynical talk, and it's very enjoyable, especially when the odd couple of Pitt and Hill - who's also terrific - hustles and works the phones.

Pitt still channels Redford, but he has mastered that pause-and-stare stance to show the wheels turning in his head, and he doesn't play against his movie-star handsomeness: His Billy Beane is a man who knows he's handsome, and also knows it's not enough.

This is the first time Pitt has been more than enough.

Edelstein Endorses:
  • "Warrior"
  • "Contagion"

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